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Patriots Still Tops In AFC East

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(Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

For over a decade now, the Patriots have more or less been the team in the AFC East with the largest target on their backs. In nine of the last 10 seasons, the Patriots have won the division title and earned an automatic trip to the postseason, with 2008 being the lone exception when quarterback Tom Brady sat the entire year after suffering ACL and MCL tears in week one.

Logic would tell us then that the common denominator for the Patriots and a winning formula is Mr. Brady. When he plays at least a majority of the 16-game season, the Patriots have the advantage.

That was increasingly true over the past several years, as the gap between the Patriots and the three other teams in the AFC East grew laughably large. In 2012, the Bills — despite spending a considerable amount of money improving their defense — underwhelmed opponents. The Dolphins entered 2012 with low expectations from fans and insiders with rookie Ryan Tannehill under center (they ended up being the only true competition at 7-9 to end the year). And, well, the Jets became what they are today (to put it nicely).

Patriots reporters in recent years have hypothesized that the common factor in New England losses has been quarterback pressure. Teams that play smashmouth defense and put constant pressure on Brady have had success against the Patriots. Look at the 2011-2012 Super Bowl against the Giants. When Brady is forced into motion and out of the pocket, that's when he and the offense are most vulnerable. The same thing occurred in 2012-2013 against the Ravens in the AFC championship game in Foxboro.

During those nine division title seasons, the Patriots have consistently boasted one of, if not the best, offenses in the National Football League. For the Bills in 2012, adding Mario Williams, Mark Anderson and Stephon Gilmore didn't prove to slow down the Pats' explosive offense. 

So far in the 2013 offseason, the Dolphins have gone a different route than the Bills by adding offensive weapons like Mike Wallace, re-signing Brian Hartline and bringing in Dustin Keller. Is the answer to dethroning the Patriots trying to outscore them? We shall see.

Miami has also spent time and money preparing for the Patriots' pass-happy offensive attack by adding cornerback Brent Grimes, formerly of the Falcons. Grimes was listed as one of the top free-agent corners on the market this offseason (as was Sean Smith, who the team lost to the Kansas City Chiefs). Miami also added two linebackers - Super Bowl champion Dannelle Ellerbe and former Raider Philip Wheeler.

The Bills and Jets have spent some time tweaking their offenses this year as well, most notably at the quarterback position. The Jets signed David Garrard, who hasn't played since 2010, to compete with Mark Sanchez, while the Bills signed Cardinals bust Kevin Kolb. 

While the Patriots' offense has changed drastically this offseason, the glue that holds it all together will still be taking snaps in 2013. The Dolphins have made the most noteworthy strides to compete this upcoming season, analysts say, but it will likely still take a few more years before the kings can be unseated.